Tail wags dog, would have been my disbelieving reply to anyone who told me what I’m about to say. Last week, I watched a two-minute YouTube video promoting John the Revelator, the first novel of a young Irish writer, Peter Murphy, which is being published by Faber and Faber – and was sure I’d like to buy the audio version of his book, . . . but not the print one.
I’ll go further. Watching the micro-video in the midst of this blogging test has finally convinced me that in ten years, most of us won’t be reading new books on plain Jane e-readers like the Kindle. Books will indeed be the multi-media objects that some futurists have been droning on about for some time – and we’ll have to find a new word for their replacement, as different as ‘parchment manuscript’ from the dead tree objects we still hold dear today.
That an advertisement should have been part of what led to this conclusion strikes even me as daft beyond belief. I’ve lived happily without television for most of my life, mostly because I detest TV ads and (with the exception of Anna Ford) the voices of newsreaders. I use ad-blocking software on my computer.
I must now admit that my liking this quirkily charming video was probably over-determined – since it was made by Sean Murray, who everyone knows is an ethereal friend of mine. The figure at its centre — which looks like a Notre Dame gargoyle – reminds me of the Murray brand of humour. No one could possibly love Tom Waits more than I do, and the singer in the background reminds me of him. . . Getting to the book itself, the passage being read by a voice I assume is the author’s is a small er, revelation . . . for someone like me, who has always puzzled over why my ex-Catholic friends are the most fervent atheists of all. I’ve shaken my head in amazement when told that threats of eternal damnation, which make laughter stream down my face, were what they had to endure as true, as tiny children.
It’s a beautiful voice, and since I can’t ‘do’ an Irish accent like that in my own head, reading Irish writers, I found it entrancing to listen to him. To buy the printed book, I thought, I’d have to look at a page of the text, which the ad does not supply . . . But it occurred to me that I’d much prefer to keep listening to the reader in Sean’s ad. And then, the awful truth that dawned on me – for those of us sentimental about old-fashioned books – is that I have listened to far more fiction than I’ve read, for the last three years, while doing chores that would make me tear my hair out in boredom without an audio accompaniment.
I found it interesting that I far preferred the advertisement for The Revelator to a video clip for John le Carré’s latest novel, A Most Wanted Man, posted a few weeks ago on the Telegraph site. The YouTube ad is strictly suggestive. It does nothing to spoil the sense of discovery I look forward to, as the book unfolds. There is no information about the plot in it, and no annoying hyperbole about its author.
Much as I’ve admired le Carré, for as long as I’ve been reading books for adults, and as amusing as it is to listen to his voice, I definitely don’t want to be presented with footage of his story’s setting in Hamburg. His promotional video actually shows us the lobby of the hotel in which I think the book opens – and other bits of its backdrop. All that would get in the way of the imagining and feeling of blissful escape, if I were trying to read the novel – something like seeing the film version before the book. No way, I said to myself, watching the clip.
But I’m guessing that for lots of others, that documentary approach is exactly what they do want.
Already, I’ve noticed that the youngest readers of literary blogs seem to have no patience for description of the kind that Dickens, for instance, excelled at. It’s not hard to imagine them preferring to click on a pictorial link for the hotel lobby sequence in the new le Carré than to read him describing the scene.
I’m extremely curious about other people’s impressions from comparing the two videos.